Paris opens a door to exiled artists

Sudanese artist Mohamed Abdulatief poses at the agency of artists in exile, an organisation that identify artists in exile from all origins and disciplines on November 29, 2017 in Paris. (AFP)
Updated 06 February 2018
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Paris opens a door to exiled artists

PARIS: It was when Kubra Khademi stopped the traffic in Kabul, and men began to throw stones at her and bay for her blood, that she knew she was going to have to leave the country.
The young performance artist had walked alone into one of the Afghan capital’s busiest intersections wearing tin armor over her breasts and backside to highlight the harassment women face in the streets.
Even as she made her escape in a taxi, one of the mob touched her behind.
“I had to hide out in Kabul until they could get me away,” she told AFP of her flight to France.
Twice condemned to death for criticizing the Khartoum government, Sudanese poet Moneim Rahma did not think twice when an unexpected chance to flee the country presented itself.
While Syrian director Samer Salameh knew he was putting himself at risk by making a film about his devastated Damascus neighborhood of Yarmouk — once described as “the worst place on earth” by aid agencies — while serving as an army conscript.
All three eventually made it to the French capital, which a half century after it was last the prime destination for writers and artists fleeing oppression, is again becoming a haven for emigres.
Next to a cash-and-carry in a working-class district of northern Paris, a drop-in center has been helping some 200 artists find their feet in France since October.
The Studio of Artists in Exile does not pretend to be a panacea for the problems artists face when they suddenly find themselves “a fish out of water” in a new country.


But, despite operating on a shoestring budget and in donated premises, it can help artists navigate the maze of relaunching their careers, said co-founder Judith Depaule.
“In ways France is attractive for artists and easier for them to work in because, unlike Germany — where you have either the underground or subsidised state art organizations, — in France there is a lot in-between,” she said.
“The system itself makes it easier here,” she added.
“Paris has historically always been a place where exiled artists came to. In the 1920s, we had the Russians and then the artists who fled the civil war in Spain to join Picasso,” Depaule said.
While it has been nearly half a century since Paris, often dubbed a “museum city,” was a major destination for artists, “the cycle is perhaps changing,” Depaule insisted.
Last week French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen publicly backed the studio, inviting its artists to her offices even as her government tightened rules making claiming asylum more difficult in France.
She praised the “extraordinary” way some in the arts had embraced the newcomers and urged others to follow their lead to “enlarge the way we see the world and open up our culture.”
Nyssen also invited 15 exiled artists, including Khademi and Rahma, to show their work in her ministry.
Khademi, 28, has fully embraced her new life since arriving in the French capital two years ago, going back to university and being honored by the government as a “knight of arts and letters.”


“I walk a lot in Paris and that is where I think about my art,” she said.
In fact, she walked backwards over the Pyrenees to recreate the philosopher Walter Benjamin’s escape from Nazi occupied France to Spain during World War II.
With her work getting noticed, and a commission for a performance in the French Museum of Immigration, her career is taking off.
For Rahma, 57, whose family is stuck in Ethiopia, the situation is more complicated.
With much of his energy devoted to trying to get his wife and four children away from “the long arm of the Sudanese secret police,” he is less at ease.
Yet he has published a book with 10 French painters on what it is like to be a refugee, written “lots of poems” and is starting his third novel.
But his focus remains firmly on his homeland.
Getting to France allowed Syrian Palestinian Salameh to finish his film showing the fate of Yarmouk during the war — “194. Us, Children of the Camp.” It has since been shown at festivals in Europe.
Yet even for a 32-year-old, the adaptation to a new life has not been painless.
“It is quite weird but even during a war your homeland can feel easier, softer, because it is your country, your language,” Salameh told AFP.
“Here is quite tough. It’s a big capital, you see people living in the street, it can be scary sometimes. There are lots of opportunities but a lot of competition as well. But I am OK, and I am starting to have some ideas to do films here now.”


Manganiyar musical experience connects Saudi Arabia with ancient India

Ithra takes visitors to the magical world of Manganiyar, an Indian folk music, in Dhahran on Wednesday. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 17 November 2018
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Manganiyar musical experience connects Saudi Arabia with ancient India

  • There were challenges, Abel said. “As an ‘intruder’ going to the Manganiyar not knowing fully what this kind of art is, in the beginning I had to learn so many things and try to understand the musicians and help them to understand me”

DHAHRAN: The King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) in Dhahran has been transporting its visitors to the magical world of the Manganiyar from Nov. 14-17. The Manganiyar is a timeless Indian orchestra originally born in the region of Rajasthan in north India, which has continued over many generations.
The basic song on which the show is based comes from a poem by the 17th-century Sufi poet, Bulleh Shah. The resulting folk music is an audio-visual feast that mixes light and voice and features more than 40 musicians in one performance.
The first Manganiyar show in Ithra was sold out.
“It was the first time in my life that inspiration dawned on me; it was like a heavenly gift,” Roysten Abel, the director of the musical show, told Arab News when he was asked how the band started their touring and performance journey.
“I was in Spain working as a street performer. One day I was resting and I heard wonderful music, which I thought was a dream. Then I realized that there were two musicians outside my room singing to wake me up. I then proposed the idea of forming this Manganiyar band,” Abel said.
Abel went to the Manganiyar’s hometown to create the band.
“I went to Rajasthan, auditioned almost 200 musicians and finally selected 50 to have our first show in 2006. Since then, if I ever listen to an old Manganiyar musician or a new one, I still weep because they haunt me with their singing.”
There were challenges, Abel said. “As an ‘intruder’ going to the Manganiyar not knowing fully what this kind of art is, in the beginning I had to learn so many things and try to understand the musicians and help them to understand me.”
Creating the performance and the harmony between the band members and the director took time.
“The musicians needed to know what this guy who is coming from outside wants? What is he going to make us do? Building the relationship took around a year and a half, and so it took us year and a half to build up the show.”
“I always say the Manganiyar selection was God’s gift to us because it was actually given to us and it runs on its own.”
Abel said that the Manganiyar show always sells out anywhere it goes due the experience it offers. “There has not been one show where we have not received a standing ovation.”
“We even performed in Hyde Park, Sydney, where nobody knew what to expect,” Abel said. “There were a good 10,000 people in the park, and when the show was over these 10,000 started clapping and even stayed for the second performance!”
Abel shared the band’s insights about their first visit to Saudi Arabia: “We were very curious to see how it was going to be received, but it turned out to be one of the best performances and the audience was thrilled. So, there’s always a lot of surprises and I tend to never expect. I just love to see what happens.”
Abel urged everyone to turn up and have their own experience of the Manganiyar. “People should all come and tell their friends to come, and live the show, because at the end of the day the show is not like any other music concert; it’s an experience of its own.”
Abel said that people’s responses to the show varied; some left in tears while others “jumped with joy.”
What matters to him, he said, is that people get the essence behind the show, which is love.